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As I prepare to begin my last semester of the Master of Divinity Program at HDS I can’t help but think back to what has made the last two and a half years so significant. My time at HDS has been truly transformative. Although it has been special because of professors, courses, and other students, the part that has been most important for my vocation have been my field education experiences. A major component of the MDiv program is completing at least two field education placements in non-profits, hospitals, churches, community organizations, government agencies—or anywhere where ministry happens. Through field education placements and other volunteer experiences I have been able to discover my passion for prison ministry and particularly for teaching in prisons. I first began to think seriously about prison ministry through a course called “Ethics, Punishment and Race,” taught by Professor Kaia Stern. This course allowed to me discover the ways society has deemed a caste of people guilty and punishable and that justice in this country does not look the same for everyone. As Lawyer Bryan Stevenson says, “in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.” After that course, I realized that incarcerated people had been invisible to me—not only because prisons and people who are incarcerated are made invisible, but also because I had not considered their suffering and experiences worthy of empathy.

Through field education placements and other volunteer experiences I have been able to discover my passion for prison ministry and particularly for teaching in prisons.

After that semester, I decided to work with people who had been incarcerated and were transitioning out of incarceration. My first field education experience was during the summer of 2014 at Span, Inc., a Boston-based non-profit organization founded in 1976. Span works with returning citizens to provide them with assistance finding housing, employment and provides them with counseling and support. I collaborated with the Director of Operations in projects of data and planning in preparation for grants.  I also worked with their Training to Work program where I taught two cycles of an intensive computer skills class. My experiences at Span, envision myself working in the non-profit sector in the future. I gained skills in both direct-service work and the management side of non-profit work.

The following academic year I decided to work with Renewal House, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. As part of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry this shelter engages residents in restorative justice circles, art therapy groups and other innovative work, which was incredibly formative for my work. During my time at Renewal House I worked teaching an English as a Learning Language class and collaborated with the leadership of Renewal House to design and facilitate domestic violence training for clergy and faith leaders. We facilitated one of these trainings at HDS in March 2015 and received positive feedback from students. The connection between domestic violence and the American punishment system motivated me to do this placement. Nearly all women who end up incarcerated have been survivors of domestic violence. Interrupting this cycle of abuse in shelters may keep many people from incarceration and further traumatization.

Divinity Hall Sign

Photo by Caroline Matas

During the Fall of 2014, I had the opportunity to co-teach an English course in a Massachusetts prison through the Boston University Prison Education Program. It was a rewarding experience and taught me about the challenges of teaching in a carceral environment and whether my ministry should be more focused on people currently incarcerated or returning citizens as they resettle back into their lives.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have had during my time at HDS. My vocation as I see it now will be to continue this work.  How can those outside of prison work for people to recognize the dignity and humanity of those in prison?  I hope to work in collaboration with community organizations, especially those that are faith-based, in order to change perspectives and advocate for prison reform, to make liberation a reality.